If you’ve ever lived with someone else (in a residence hall or otherwise), you probably know sharing your space with another person is not always easy. In a college living setting where you will likely be paired with a total stranger (or several), a student might worry about the “quality” of the roommates they are stuck with. There’s hope that you’ll get a “good” roommate, and maybe even a new best friend. But what makes a “good” roommate? And how can you be sure that you are one?
Below are some tips for cultivating successful roomie relationships that will help you and your roommates share space peacefully – and perhaps even joyfully.
Most of the tips discussed here revolve around the concept of boundaries. The word “boundaries” might have a negative connotation to some. However, boundaries are a large part of our society and daily interactions and healthy boundaries allow us to function at better capacities within our social circles. So even if you and your roomie instantly click, establishing ground rules early on – and sticking to them – is important.
Depending on your experience, you might take to cohabitating with others easily. If you grew up sharing a bedroom and bathroom with another sibling most of your life, for example, you probably understand how using the shower without telling them, playing loud music or inviting a friend over unexpectedly can negatively affect your roomie. If you grew up as someone with their own private area your whole life, then respecting another person’s space or habits of sleep might not come naturally. If two people of opposite “roomie backgrounds” become roommates, it can lead to unbalanced expectations. While building your boundaries, take time to communicate what you both expect of each other and, if you want, share some background on your own roommate experiences.
Respect each other’s space, property and privacy
In establishing ground rules, try to define exact standards for respecting space, property and privacy. These are some good basic rules to follow:
- Do not mess with your roommate’s possessions without asking them first.
- Do not go into your roommate’s bedroom, closet or other private space without permission.
- If you use the common area, tidy it up after you’re done.
- If you invite friends over, make sure everyone helps you clean up before they leave.
- Generally clean up after yourself.
- And please, for the sanity of your household – do not eat another roommate’s food!
Exchange emergency contacts
It’s important to be able to contact one another quickly, emergency or not. It is also helpful to know who your roommates would call in an emergency and have that number saved. This way, if an emergency does take place – say, a trip to the ER – you will know who to call. Your roommate will thank you for it.
Be mindful of who you invite over
If you are planning on hosting a study group or inviting your band to rehearse at your place, you definitely want to talk to your roommate about it first. Be respectful of each other’s preferences in regards to time, too. Maybe your study group likes to start at 9 p.m. and continue past midnight, but your roommate is in bed by 10. Depending on the noise level of your study buddies, you should consider telling them your place is not an option unless they agree to move the study group to an earlier time.
Hold each other accountable
If your roommate is starting to break some of the ground rules you defined at the beginning, address the problem. It is important to be respectful while doing this. Find a moment to talk with them privately rather than bring up your frustration during a public setting. When you talk with them, avoid passive-aggressive comments such as “somebody doesn’t know how to hang a towel” and be direct: “I notice your towel on the bathroom floor every morning, and I was wondering if you could hang it up instead.” You might discuss if any of the ground rules don’t make sense or seem unreasonable.
Reviewing the ground rules every few months might help dissolve or prevent confusions that can arise. Remember that you need to be held accountable too. It is easier to complain about another roomie’s bad habits than to own up to our own. If your roommate confronts you, remember how you would want them to respond if it was the other way around.
Take time to communicate and build rapport
Communication is key to maintaining healthy boundaries; however, don’t let the only time you talk to your roommate be when you are confronting them or reviewing ground rules. Build rapport and mutual respect by asking how your roommate is doing, engaging in small talk and showing some level of support or respect for them. If possible, take time to bond by planning outings together. Remember you don’t have to be friends to be friendly to each other. And who knows, even if it doesn’t seem like the perfect match at the beginning, a friendship might grow given the time and effort.